Interview with Suicide Girls about Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother

My next novel, Homeland (the sequel to Little Brother) is out in a few weeks, and I recently sat down with Nicole Powers from Suicide Girls for an interview about the book and the issues it raises, especially the student-debt bubble:

When it was just rich people going, it wasn’t about just getting a better job, because you were already rich, you already had the entré into the better job. You could already do unfunded apprenticeships and your parents’ friends were the people offering you the unfunded apprenticeships. You had a good five ways within the system. But now it’s a market transaction, and once it’s a market transaction we start applying cost benefit analysis to it. We start saying, well if the university degree earns you so many pounds, then it makes sense to start talking about you paying so many pounds. And if the objective here is to take people whose lifetime income expectancy was so many pounds, and make it a little bit higher –– which is what we call social mobility –– then why shouldn’t that be a virtuous cycle and they pay back into it. That way the university can expand the number of students they take on and all the rest of it, right?

The problem with that is that it’s become a Ponzi scheme, especially in America. We haven’t quite gotten there here. But in America, you have this crazy thing where it is somewhat true and it’s also universally received as true, that you can’t get a good job without a university degree. It’s also the case that universities, including many state colleges –– that are actually owned by the public –– can act as loan originators, which is to say they lend you the money but where those loans are then backed by the federal government. They can lend you any amount of money because there’s no risk to them because the government will take the loan off their hands. Those loans are then further secured by the federal government when they float them as bonds. So you have this weird perverse incentive where the universities, the more they charge the more they get –– which is a bit weird right? Because in real market economies, the more you charge the more you get up to a point, and then people start going, wait a second, that’s not worth it anymore, and they stop paying in. But if I tell you that you can’t get a job unless you get a degree, and then I tell you that no matter how much the degree costs I can get you a loan for that much, all of a sudden you start getting takers for those crazy propositions and that starts to look like a bubble, like a pyramid scheme.

Cory Doctorow: Homeland

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  1. First of all, dang you for mentioning Homeland. I cannot wait for it to come out. Little Brother is one of my favorite books I’ve read. 

    I hear you on higher ed. One of the problems in with cost again comes down to health care costs in America. Universities want to provide it for their employees and it keeps going up in cost, along with retirement contributions, heating costs, professor salaries, etc. 

    Then, in places like PA, you have governor’s who keep peeling back the amount of money the state provides these “public” institutions. It sucks, especially for the students.

  2. I… that synopsis… just… wow. I feel like that Asian kid being schooled by Julia Stiles about the new wave, the next wave, the DREAM wave! Cory, you are my Julia Stiles. This is like yoga for my eyeballs. You are Julia Stiles as a hacker in 1993 as a yoga instructor for my eyeballs. I am framing this. Literature has just dropped the proverbial mic.

  3. Hehe… I also like your lead-in:

    “I recently sat down with Nicole Powers from Suicide Girls for an interview about the book and the issues it raises…”

    Cue interview of yourself. You subversive goofball.

  4. I’m trying to figure out how you combine promoting young adult fiction with an adult lifestyle brand.  I mean beyond the fact that basically you did.

  5. Property’s a massive asset bubble and higher education is a massive asset bubble, both creating life-destroying debt. And in America, you’d better hope you don’t get sick.

    Yay, the future.

  6. I was lucky enough to go to University in the UK during the early 80s and even got a grant to cover living expenses. Back then 15% or so of the population went to University. The current generation of University goers (approaching 50% of 18 yr olds who’re still in school) will probably never be as affluent as my generation.

    The vast majority of businesses in the UK are run by people who didn’t go to University. At the other end of the scale, many of the major new tech companies were created by people who dropped out of or never went to College. An education is a wonderful thing but if my my own experiences is anything to go by I do wonder if there’s much worth in an education that isn’t explicitly self-motivated and self-directed, as opposed to just going to University for the “experience” or because it looks good on your résumé.When I went to Uni – electronic and information engineering, a proper degree :P – all my lecturers said the same thing: getting a university degree reveals an aptitude for sticking at something, but the bulk of your real education will be in work. That was the real importance of it – it allowed employers to filter potential employees. Now employers are still using it as a filter, but the scope is so broad it’s meaningless. My nephew told me that a Masters (which he is working on) is now the new minimum bar for jobs that only required a degree a decade ago.

    Also, Suicide Girls is a great site.

    1. you’ve missed out on the other side of the transformation. “everyone needs to go to college” is part of the cover story we’ve been offered to explain how there is supposed to be work for people in first world countries after the wealthy and the powerful have moved so much production to third world countries to cut labor costs and increase profit. “if we all went to college”, then we’ll be smarter than those poor, stupid people from <wherever> and we can all do “21st century jobs”. this has been the claim.

      not only is this a stupid and ignorant idea, its a lie and i increasingly feel a quite intentional lie. and yes, i went to university in the UK in the  early 80’s too :)

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